Every winter some Ryerson undergraduate journalism students venture to foreign lands and we’re not talking about the mysterious third floor of the Rogers Communication Centre.
Generally during their third year, students in the Bachelor of Journalism program have the opportunity to go abroad on 14 select exchanges including the Auckland University of Technology, City University in London, England and the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Copenhagen.
I sat down with two former exchange students from j-school to chat about the good, the bad and everything in between.
Kayla Kuefler, Australia, Class of 2017
Q: Why did you decide to go on exchange?
A: I love travel, I’m from Alberta and I came to Toronto for school and even thought that was a big move I wanted to do a bigger move. I love getting out and I love seeing the world. I’ve done exchanges in high school and I loved those and I thought those were really influential on just finding out what I wanted to do with my life and helping my confidence and meeting new people. I find it’s really good for your independence to be forced to go out on your own. Also, I didn’t want to sit in the cold when I could be on a beach in Australia.
Q: Expectations vs. reality: was the exchange all you had hoped it to be?
A: I would say that my priorities have shifted a little more because I went out and I met so many different people, exchange students who are in journalism from all over the world and just seeing what they have learned. It’s shifted my focus [in terms of] what I want to do. When I left for exchange I had a very one track mind of what I wanted to do when I graduated, how I wanted my life to go and now I’m a lot more open to the different opportunities that life can take me.
Q: Any advice to future j-school students who are going on exchange, or are wanting to go on exchange?
A: Two bits of advice:
Take out a lot of cash before you leave. What happened to me is that I took out some cash but my bank cards didn’t work when I got there even though I told my bank I’m going overseas. It took probably a week and a half for my bank cards to work. I had this limited amount of cash so people I had just met I [was asking], “can you help me out.” So definitely take more cash. That’s just practical.
Be very open and you have to be social. You have to go out and you have to talk to strangers. No one is going to say, ‘oh hey who’s this person let’s go be her friend.’ You have to be the one to go out and introduce yourself. That’s what I had to do from the first day. I forced people to be my friend and they’re still my good friends. There has to be that one person in the group to break the ice.
Jasmin Husain, Singapore, graduate, Class of 2016
Q: Why did you first decide to go on exchange?
A: I think I had a yearning or wanting to leave the country and explore what it was life outside of Toronto. Before exchange I hadn’t really traveled other than on family vacations, but that was very resort-like and a very commercialized space. I was excited to travel, but also the opportunity to learn about a different countries culture and be immersed in that experience plus also seeing what would school would be like in another country. I was very intrigued by that.
Q: Do you think that your experience as an exchange student helped you as a journalism student?
A: I think it was interesting to observe journalism in South-East Asia specifically because the way that it’s structured is so different from North America and their style of learning was also very different. So I guess as a journalism student it made me a little more aware. Also, I think when you go on exchange it depends on what schools you go to because certain ones have more journalism focus than others. Mine was a little more like alternative journalism, the focus was a little more on marketing and PR-type courses and that’s the type of courses that I decided to take based on my own field that I wanted to get in to so I feel like it benefited me that way.
Q: Did you do any reporting in Singapore?
No, that was my choice. It was based on the nature of the courses that I took. The only journalism type-thing I did was in magazine design.
Q: Would you have any advice for future j-school students who want to go on exchange?
A: I think if you’re looking for an interesting experience that tells you about how journalism functions in a different society, definitely do your research into different schools and the country you’ll be living in. Be open-minded when it comes to that because of course the way we learn journalism at Ryerson, in j-school, is very different than the way other schools teach journalism. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn from other places.
Students interested in the exchange programs need to begin planning during the second year of their undergraduate program. More information on the administration of the programs is available on the school’s website, Students may also contact the exchange coordinator, Kamal Al-Soyalee <email@example.com>.
O’Tucky MacLeanwas an artist, writer, photographer, painter and definitely not a cookie-cutter individual, and this is our family’s way of honouring him, said Kevin MacLean, an instructor at the Ryerson School of Journalism and O’Tucky’s brother.
“People often ask, ‘That’s a weird name, where did that come from? Is that a nickname?’ but it’s not,” MacLean said. “It’s actually our father’s middle name. I didn’t get it, but my brother did, as his middle name, and even from when he was a kid that’s the one he was always going by.”
The Rebel With A Cause Award is to be given to a journalism student who plans to go abroad for a fall or winter semester.
“His life revolved around creative ventures,” said MacLean of his brother. “I came up with a name that also reflects his personality. He was an individual who spoke his mind and didn’t suffer fools.”
Creative minds will be happy to note that submissions for this award can also stray from the standard format. In place of an essay, a student can submit a video or photographic essay.
“I teach at the School of Journalism and I’ve been a journalist for almost 40 years and, while my background is in the written form, I was a photographer as well,” MacLean said. “I wanted to recognize the fact that [the industry] is changing and we have a lot of really talented and creative students. I wanted to give them the option of having a different kind of outlet.”
MacLean said he hopes the award will go to students who won’t be afraid to question and hold accountable those with authority or power.
Faulhaber Communications, a PR and marketing agency focusing on lifestyle brands, has teamed with Ryerson University to present an award to a female student who is working toward becoming a leader in communications.
A new course, Queer Media, offered by the Ryerson School of Journalism for the first time this past semester, is attracting interest from news media across the country.
The course – to help inform the next generation of journalists and to transform newsrooms – has been written about by the Torontoist and University Affairs.
Andrea Houston, who developed and taught the course, says she started off by focusing on LGBTQ history.
“When I asked questions like, “Who’s heard of Stonewall” or “Who’s heard of the bathhouse raids,” very few hands went up,” said Houston, a journalist who has covered a range of issues affecting LGBTQ people at local, provincial, national and international levels.
“You can’t teach the big queer concepts if you don’t have a groundwork of history already laid out. You need to understand how social movements have impacted queer people and how queer people have impacted social movements.”
Guest lecturers for the semester included Kamoga Hassan, a Ugandan filmmaker, who showed his film about homophobia in East Africa. Houston also invited El-Farouk Khaki, co-founder of Unity Mosque, the first LGBTQ mosque for the queer-Muslim community in Canada, to speak.
“There’s just not enough time in the three-hour lecture we have every week to cover all the grounds,” said Houston, who describes her students as “sponges” soaking up the information. “But it’s great, they’re loving it. I’m loving all the questions they’re asking.”
Houston says she’s been impressed by some of the curricula in Ontario high schools, but queer history has a place for university undergrads as well.
Associate Professor Anne McNeilly suggested developing such a course to the School of Journalism’s program committee in spring 2015. Traditionally, it has not been a well-studied area in journalism, she said.
Even in The Canadian Press Stylebook, LGBTQ issues are not really addressed. They’re sort of squeezed in there, added McNeilly. And the issues surrounding the correct use of pronouns are only just being addressed now.
According to McNeilly, once courses are proposed to faculty by the program committee, they can take about a year to be developed.
“The course is very well subscribed,” McNeilly said. “It’s been very successful.”
Queer Media is available to journalism students as well as those taking News Studies courses for non-journalism students.
After graduating from the Ryerson School of Journalism, Don Gibb, Joy Malbon and Suhana Meharchand pursued successful careers in journalism. Now, they can add “Headliner” to their resumes, the honour the Ryerson Journalism Alumni Association bestows on illustrious alumni.
They were celebrated at the school’s Nov. 30 awards ceremony at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
Gibb is a 1968 graduate who retired from a long teaching career at the School after more than 20 years as a reporter and editor at TheLondon Free Press. Meharchand graduated in 1986 before accelerating through a broadcast career that included hosting various national CBC news programs. Malbon, an 1982 grad, has been based in Washington for CTV’s National News since 2005.
The Headliners represent the Ryerson School of Journalism’s hall of fame. The RJAA has named 22 recipients since 2013, when the school celebrated its inaugural ”Headliners” as part of its 60th anniversary.
With thousands of alumni and former students, choosing the Headliners is a daunting task. “Even just selecting a short list for this award is extremely difficult as the Ryerson School of Journalism has had so many amazing people,” said Amanda Cupido, former president of the RJAA. “We always have a lot of debate and struggle within our association when deciding who we put forward.”
While Gibb, Malbon and Meharchand are traditional print and broadcast journalists, the RJAA has named winners who took digital career paths. And it has also shown a willingness to consider non-journalism candidates. The selection committee gave the nod to the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie, Zarqa Nawaz, a ’92 grad, in 2013.
“It’s very broad who we’re picking,” Cupido said. “We want to recognize grads who are making a mark in their industry, and that can be any industry.”
Any former student can submit a nominee, usually during the summer. (Nominees need only to have completed one full year in the journalism program at the undergraduate or graduate level). An RJAA committee then creates a short list and chooses two or three winners.
“We launched the Headliners awards in 2013 and it was long overdue. We are so happy to be able to acknowledge the successes of those who’ve come through,” Cupido said. “It’s just amazing to see how many successful people have passed through the School of Journalism.”
RSJ Professor Emeritus Don Gibb accepting his award from RJAA President Vibhu Gairola.
How far back in the history of comedy do you go and how far outside of the pop-culture comfort zone do you want to go?
These are the questions Ryerson contract lecturer Adam Nayman is asking himself about the new course he will be teaching on comedy in journalism starting in the winter of 2017.
“There’s a wide historical body of comedy in journalism and a much longer timeline to look at, and I have to figure out how much of that I can put into the 12 week class,” said Nayman. “I don’t want it to be 12 weeks of turning the DVD player on and saying ‘this is funny.’”
Comedy and journalism go together very well because they’re both interrogations and confrontations with power, he said.
“Ideally journalism is a check on power. There’s theory on that and there’s literature on that, but hopefully it’s an understanding among those who practice journalism,” said Nayman. “As far as comedy goes, comedy is always against power, comedy is not funny from the top down – comedy is funny from the ground up.”
The course will be offered to journalism students and also to students in other disciplines who are taking News Studies courses.
This class will not be a practical applications class, Nayman is not trying to teach his students how to be journalists but how to analyze texts, literatures and ideas.
“Processing information and using that information and knowledge to look at and evaluate a work, whether it’s a work of prose or a work of film, that skill set can help [students] build something later on,” he said. “It’s like reverse-engineering, if you can deconstruct a piece of writing you can build one.”
Nayman says he will tackle issues like Charlie Hebdo as satire. He encourages discussion in his classroom. “It would be a pretty bad class if I just came in with readings on Charlie Hebdo and said, ‘I think this.’ That probably wouldn’t go over well.”
Nayman says the course will be rigorous.
“This is not a bird course,” he said, “It’s not going to be, ‘here’s a bunch of stuff that Adam finds funny.’”
Janice Neil says she can’t believe how many fantastic, experienced journalists are interested in teaching journalism at Ryerson.
The chair of the program met with many instructors over the past couple of years and when part-time jobs were advertised last spring, 14 new instructors were hired for this academic year. Ten are teaching this fall and the others start in the winter semester.
Dozens of candidates with a broad range of digital skills and teaching experience applied. It was a process that happened over a six-week period in June and July.
Neil was appointed as chair, effective July 1, for a three-year term. She was previously the associate chair to former RSJ Chair Ivor Shapiro, who is currently on sabbatical.
Bringing in a broad, diverse instructing talent was just one of her goals, says Neil, who was appointed on July 1.
Below read a Q&A about what she hopes to accomplish during her three-year term.
Q: What do you anticipate as being the most challenging aspect of your new position at the Ryerson School of Journalism?
A: Rather than saying there’s something that’s challenging, I would like to say there are lots of exciting opportunities to let our brand new curriculum shine. Our second-year students are getting all new courses and our first-years are getting the second year of the new curriculum. We’ve also, of course, brought in new courses for the final-year students. We’re introducing the online course, Reporting on Aboriginal Communities, and that’s very exciting. We have 14 instructors this academic year who are new to teaching at Ryerson and bringing experiences from newsrooms and organizations where they work right into the classroom. We also have the instructors coming back to us who the students love and learn a lot from, and of course all of our full-time faculty. I think the challenge is that we want, and we need, to be staying on top of where the journalism profession is, where the industry is, and trying to anticipate challenges, anticipating innovation and to spark innovation among our students. We teach students the fundamental skills that are important for where they are right now. Like so many other schools in the university, we are constantly on the cusp of change and that is exciting and it is a challenge.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish during your time as chair?
A:I believe we’ve already started here at the school and what we’re going to really continue working on is really identifying the culture that we have in the classroom [as we prepare] students for the real world. By that I don’t mean that we are replicating all the harsh realities necessarily of the real world, but that we are constantly taking care of our students and nurturing who they are and recognizing that they are students and they are here in our classrooms and preparing them to take responsibility for their careers and basically the career of life. We’re establishing what the culture in the school of journalism is, and that includes some of the things that I mentioned earlier. Ryerson has had a reputation for being a place of teaching excellence and I want to continue to nurture and to build that. Giving our faculty and instructors lots of opportunities to think about how we can constantly give our students the best possible experience while they’re here in the classroom – that is an important part of my vision and I know it’s one that is shared by my colleagues.
We’re offering our first online course starting in January that students can fit in if they are working the extremely long hours we know many students work in their supposedly part-time jobs, and carrying a full course load as well. It’s a course that is so essential and that’s responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that said that we have to be doing a better job of educating students about the history and how to report on Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal peoples. We’ve had support from the university to build a whole set of resources. We’re going to have a website we’re going to launch [sometime] this fall.
I want the whole school, the students and the faculty, to embrace how we can report on Aboriginal peoples that are here in Toronto. It’s the second largest urban community of people living off reserve in an urban setting in the country. That is taking our responsibility to respond to what is a pretty passionate call to right the wrongs of the past in terms of this relationship that non-Aboriginal people have had with their indigenous communities.
I’m very excited by so many of the research projects that our faculty are working on and there are all sorts of great plans for interesting panels and discussions so stay tuned for that. I think one of the goals this year is to continue to look at ways to integrate journalism students within the rest of FCAD. We’re in this wonderful faculty with eight other schools that are interested in ideas and producing things.
All of the faculties are interested in storytelling. One of the goals is to learn how to tell those stories with students in some of the other schools, including the Transmedia Zone, which is just up on the second floor. I’m hoping there is going to be more journalism involvement in that, but [also] really strengthening relationships and finding really innovative ways to work with other schools that are in our faculties to create some really nice synergy there.
Q: I can tell that there are a lot of ideas you’re excited for and a lot of changes in the school, but what really drove you to take on this position as chair?
A: I am so energized by what is happening here. We have fantastic students and fantastic teaching instructors and we have great staff. We are a really good family that, I think, is really at the centre of Canadian journalism education in the country. To be not just part of it, but to be looking on the horizon and see what’s coming and what we can create. I think these are times of such incredible transformation in the journalism profession, in the journalism industry and that is exciting to mobilize what we do well already and to kind of figure out how that’s going to take us to the next level.
Q: As chair, do you see yourself having more interactions with students to get feedback, not just from your staff and faculty, but is there going to be more connection with students?
A: Absolutely, an open-door policy. I think I’m going to steal an idea from our current dean [of FCAD] Charles Falzon. When he was chair of RTA he used to have Fireside Chats. He said I’m welcome to steal that idea. I’m not sure there’s a fireplace, and in the summer it’s hard to think of needing warmth, but I think it’s a great concept. I’ll figure out what to call them, but to have occasional open pit chats to have students drop by. I realize our students are so, so busy and that just having one-off events to meet the chair isn’t necessarily going to fit their schedules, so I try to have an open-door policy and also to have students [meet the person] who can best meet their needs. Together as a team we are open for business. If we were a business, [students] are our clients and we are here to not just guide their journalism education but to participate with them in that process of having a fantastic experience. There are undergraduates and graduates who are here for [respectively] four and two years and we help them prepare for the rest of their lives.
Q: Is there any advice that Ivor (the previous chair) had passed on to you or had shared with regards to the chair position?
A: <Laughs> The office gets cold in the winter. I’ll be honest, what Ivor told me over and over again is this is the best job. There’s nothing more satisfying than helping a student, than working with a colleague, than working with staff on a project that serves the students, serves journalism research, serves the greater community that participates in it and that is absolutely honest. When I asked Ivor what he got out of it, he got a little misty eyed. It’s helping people, that certainly inspired me and I’m sure that’s going to be my answer when I step down from this as well.
The interview was edited and condensed for length.
CBC journalist Duncan McCue is teaching students how to navigate situations where reporting practices come in conflict with Indigenous customs.
For example, journalism standards typically don’t favour paid sources, says McCue. But that can go against some Indigenous teachings.
“Indigenous culture expects that you will honour the time and wisdom that an elder is sharing with you with some type of gift or some type of acknowledgement,” he says.
McCue created an online guide to offer suggestions for journalists in this situation and others. The journalist should ask if giving a gift to the interview subject is appropriate. Next, the guide suggests a common gift of tobacco, as it is considered to be sacred medicine.
McCue joins the Ryerson School of Journalism (RSJ) faculty as a Rogers Visiting Journalist. He will use his experience both as a reporter and as an instructor to help students and faculty develop their ideas and curriculum, says RSJ chair Janice Neil.
His appointment comes nine months after the Canadian government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissioncalled on media and journalism schools to educate students about Indigenous history in Canada, an action that McCue says he is “thrilled” about.
“Students across the country want to see themselves reflected in the schools they’re going to,” said Tracey King, Aboriginal Human Resources Consultant for Ryerson University.
“To know that there’s Aboriginal [faculty] in schools, I would say that these scholars are role-models for our future generations.”
The 2011 census reported that a little under 10 per cent of Canadian Indigenous peoples ages 25 to 64 held a university degree. This is in comparison to the 26.5 per cent of non-Indigenous people who held university degrees at that time.
Below, read a Q&A with McCue about his new role, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s calls-to-action and McCue’s recently published memoir.
L: You’ve been at the CBC for 18 years. Over that time, what changes have you seen in the newsroom when it comes to reporting on Indigenous communities?
D: Big changes. There have been two really distinct changes. One is that fortunately there are more Indigenous staff now than there were when I started. We’ve always had a strong contingent of Indigenous reporters, producers and hosts in the North, but in the South Indigenous reporters were few and far between when I started. Fortunately, that is starting to change for the better. CBC is simply hiring more Indigenous reporters, producers and hosts now than when I started, so that’s a really positive change. The second thing is that there is more content now, certainly on the radio and definitely online – online didn’t even exist when I started – but on TV as well. So, in particular the creation of CBC Aboriginal has made huge strides in terms of offering our audiences more Indigenous content, a broader range of stories from Indigenous communities than whatever existed when I started out in the business.
L: When did the Ryerson School of Journalism first approach you to become a Rogers Visiting Journalist?
D: I was asked to give a workshop to, not just Ryerson professors, but journalism professors from various schools in Toronto in May on Indigenous issues and incorporating Indigenous issues in the classroom. That was a full-day workshop that also included a panel of journalists on covering missing and murdered Indigenous women. I entered into conversation with Ryerson and said that it’s great that [the journalism program] is embarking on offering a new course this year and also making many efforts to try and incorporate more Indigenous content into the classroom in various courses, and that’s something that I’d love to be part of.
L: Will you be giving input on the new course that Ryerson is starting?
D: The idea is that I’ll be available to the instructor of that course but also any instructor who wants to figure out how to increase student accessibility to Indigenous communities and how to start providing more Indigenous content in the classroom.
L: In a broad sense, what do you hope to add to the journalism course at Ryerson?
I’ll give you an example:
[Lynda] Calvert teaches ethics and has asked me to come [in]. There’s one class in particular where she focuses on the ethics of reporting in Indigenous communities, so I’ll be coming to share some of my real-life experiences with the students. I have been at it for 18 years and I have put together a guide called “Reporting In Indigenous Communities (RIIC),” which tries to take these issues out of the realm of the theoretical and give journalists real tips on how they can adapt their journalism practices and, frankly, the journalism culture so that it better fits the Indigenous communities that they’re operating in. That’s the kind of thing that I’ll be doing.
I’ll be asking the really nitty-gritty questions about how do you honour an elder, for example, when journalism standards typically don’t allow us to pay our sources. But, Indigenous cultures expects that you will honour the time and wisdom that an elder is sharing with you with some type of gift or some type of acknowledgement of the time and wisdom that an elder is sharing with you. Those can be thorny questions journalistically to tackle and so that’s the kind of thing that I’ll be discussing in the ethics class. It’s also really important just to be generally aware of some basic core principles of Indigenous culture. I call it having a cultural baseline, if you will. That allows you to understand the community that you’re operating in as a journalist and that can also really help to improve your journalism.
L: Can students expect a lesson on proper terminology to be used when writing about Indigenous communities?
D: Terminology is really important. There are people who will get quite offended when you use the wrong terminology. So there are some right and wrongs. Just personally I’m not one to get really hung up on the many different terms for Indigenous people but I recognize that it’s important that we try to be as responsive to our audience as possible and as consistent as possible in the terminology we use. Absolutely there’s a discussion to be had about terminology, but I also don’t like to be really hung up on it because ultimately what’s more important is the story and not semantics.
L: You spoke about the cultural differences surrounding time in an interview, is this something you plan on touching on as well?
D: There are a number of cultural “tips” that I think are helpful when operating in any minority community. “Indian Time” is one that is particular to Indigenous people. Understanding that things operate a little bit more slowly and may not operate according to the deadline that’s expected from the newsroom helps you in terms of your planning. If you can incorporate slower journalism into your deadline somehow, then you will find that your story subjects will respond to you in a much more positive way. It’s a phrase, “Indian Time”, that some people may find offensive and may find stereotypical, but it’s a phrase that we commonly use in the Native community ourselves. Helping students understand that can really help their journalism.
L: I wanted to pick your brain for a moment about the Truth and Reconciliation Committee [TRC] and their calls-to-action for journalism and media schools. Since that came out, have you heard of your guide book, the RIIC, being used in more journalism and media schools? In what capacity?
D: When I put the guide together back in 2010, frankly, my goal was to make it available to working journalists. I also started a course at the UBC [University of British Columbia] graduate school of journalism called Reporting In Indigenous Communities and I knew that I would be able to pass on those lessons to my students in that course, but I wanted there to be something available to working journalists who needed some quick advice if they were reporting on Indigenous communities. Someone who could kind of whisper in their ear and say “Hey, here’s something you might want to try.” To my surprise and pleasure what I have learned is probably the biggest audience for RIIC.ca has been students and academics. Every year at the end of term I hear from boatloads of students who are using the guide in their classroom, or using it in their papers or have questions for me, or want me to follow up on a particular aspect of the guide. I’m thrilled to hear that students are finding it to be a really helpful resource right across the country and, frankly, not just in Canada but all over the world. That’s fantastic, that’s what it was intended for and if it helps students, that’s great. I will say the one thing about the TRC is that I was thrilled with Recommendation 86, which specifically was directed at journalism schools, which said: “If reconciliation is going to happen, then journalism schools need to step up and start offering more Indigenous content in the classroom.” I have to say that it is great to see so many journalism schools taking that call to action seriously. Whether it’s Ryerson in terms of offering a new course this year and the many other aspects of the curriculum where they’re trying to incorporate Indigenous content, or Carleton [University], which is offering a new course this year on Indigenous Issues and the Media, which is taught by Hayden King, or there are other journalism schools, [such as] Kings [University College] in Halifax that is wrestling with how to make their curriculum and content responsive to the needs of Canadian journalism students in the 21st century.
L: Speaking on your experience with the Reporting In Indigenous Communities course at UBC, you said that course uses RIIC like a textbook. Is the aim to also have students at Ryerson use it like that, too?
D: How professors chose to incorporate it I have to leave to them. My philosophy on teaching is very much that students need to get their hands dirty and learn for themselves. I would hope that the guide might act as a starting point, a jumping-off point or a conversation piece, but you’re not going to learn everything you need to learn about reporting in Indigenous communities simply by sitting down and reading my online guide for half an hour. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done and it hopefully will start a conversation and the wheels turning for some students but I would hope that it’s only the beginning point and not an end point.
L: To get their hands dirty, would you encourage students to seek out stories in Indigenous communities and go with as much knowledge as they have and just try their best?
D: I do think a little bit of preparation for any story is helpful, in the same way that any smart journalist tries to learn as much as possible on any topic before they head out into the field. I think the same should apply to Indigenous issues. You have to recognize, as a journalist, we carry the weight of the sins of our fathers, if you will. There is unfortunately a negative relationship between media and many Indigenous peoples, which has developed over the course of a century of interaction. It behooves us to prepare as much as possible before we go out in the field. That said, I also tell students, you don’t need to feel like you’re ignorant and that you don’t know anything, and you don’t need to feel like you need to be an expert on absolutely everything Indian before you go out into the field. It’s important not to be scared of these stories, and important not to be fearful of being politically correct or fearful that someone is going to call you a racist. You need to just go out and start to meet people in First Nations or in Indigenous Communities in the city. The only way to do that is simply by getting out and meeting them and finding those stories. Will students make mistakes? Of course. But that’s how we learn. Doing it in the safety of a classroom setting is a really good way to learn properly.
L: I wanted to talk to you a bit about your new book, The Shoe Boy. Why did you decide that now is a good time to publish this book?
D: I actually wrote the book about four or five years ago and it sat on my hard drive for a couple of years. It just so happened that I made a connection with a publisher last year who was excited about publishing it and I was excited that he wanted to publish it. Nonvella is a small start-up publisher in BC that has a great idea. The idea is this: there’s a market out there for long reads. There are people who are interested in reading material that is longer than a magazine article but shorter than a full-on book, and I think that Nonvella is on to something so I was proud to have my piece be a part of their line-up. It was a great connection with a publisher that I felt was going to honour the material. I will say that the thing I’m happiest about publishing the book is that I do think that the experiences of the James Bay Cree are really instructive to Canadians all over about how to move forward in terms of relationships with Indigenous people. The story of the James Bay Cree is not one that many Canadians will be familiar with, and so for that reason I was really pleased to be able to release the book now.
D: Absolutely. People will see me how they want to see me. I have no control over that. I am an Indigenous person, I am a journalist and do I report exclusively on Indigenous issues? No, not at all. Is it important for me to report on Indigenous issues? Absolutely. So, my role on Cross Country Checkup is to engage Canadians in the conversations that matter to them, and that’s going to range from week to week. This week we’re talking about distracted driving and texting while driving and crackdowns on that kind of behaviour. The week before it was about why Canadians seem to be dropping in terms of the participation in sports. But, we’ve also included some Indigenous topics as well in terms of social media and racism in the context of the Colton Boushie case, and the launch of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s inquiry. It’s important to me that we will have Indigenous content on Cross Country Checkup and that we have indigenous voices on the air and I know that it’s important to CBC Radio as well that the airwaves start to do a better job of reflecting Canada than CBC Radio has done in the past, but will I report exclusively on Indigenous issues? No, I won’t. And I never have. I’ve always been a journalist first, a journalist who just happens to be a proud Indigenous person.
L: What do you do when someone comes on the air and they’re obviously very prejudiced?
D: Cross Country Checkup is a show where there are going to be many different opinions expressed every week and the idea behind this show is that Canadians won’t always agree with one another but the show will be two hours where they can talk and listen to one another, and that’s going to be on any topic. The tone of the show has always tried to be respectful and that’ll continue with me as host as well. We obviously work very hard to be sure that we don’t subject our listeners to racism, that’s not something that we’re trying to do on the air, we’re always trying to avoid that, but live radio is live radio and stuff happens. So if it were to happen that we had a caller on the air who expressed opinions that were not tasteful, what I can do is do my best to suggest to them that it isn’t tasteful and not the right place to be expressing those opinions and then do my best to try and move the conversation along to a more productive conversation. If someone insists on being rude or racist, it is fortunate that I am able to simply shut a conversation down so I am no longer hearing from them. We don’t want to subject our listeners to that, that’s not the idea. We’re not a show looking to anger people. We’re a show looking to encourage smart conversation.